SALEM -- When Bryony Graham sits on the porch, she sometimes forgets that it's not attached to a house.
"It's a real collaboration. People respond and they become part of the piece," Graham said as she offered a tour of her reconstructed porch on wheels, an amalgamation of local architectural remnants donated by people across the region.
Graham, an artist-in-residence at Salem Art Works, is documenting and replicating part of upstate New York's social culture with "Porch Pieces." The traveling artwork, which blends the mobile porch with photos and audio-visual elements, has been visiting spots across the region. The event is made possible, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts Decentralization Program, administered locally by Lower Adirondack Regional Arts Council.
"Every single bit of this porch has come from a past-loved porch," she said, noting various elements and where they were attained.
Each post, shingle and rung has its own story.
"The patchwork porch is a beautiful thing," Graham said as she recalled many of the personal stories attached to the wooden historical fragments that make up the structure. "I find it endlessly moving."
The artist chronicles the history and anecdotes of the donated parts through an online blog. The material will become part of the archives at the Historic Salem Courthouse.
Up close, the porch looks like it could be the front of any house, but closer inspection provides a more eclectic experience. The construction, which continues to evolve, is a quilt of beadboard and wooden planks. As Graham collects stories and mementos, they become a part of the project.
"I'm really interested in the psycho-geography of this space. I'm really motivated by community aesthetics and communications," she said.
The artist has spent the summer traveling around to meet with people and talk about their porches and the memories the structures generate.
On a hot night in early August, Graham spent an evening with Frank and Linda Cappabianca and their neighbors on several Glens Falls porches.
"We used to spend a lot of time on the porch," Linda recalled as she talked about the outdoor space where she slept in a carriage as a baby and where her own children used to play. "When our son was little, we had a gate across the steps."
According to Linda, the front porch of the home, which has been in the family for multiple generations, played a pivotal role in daily life.
"My grandparents used to do a lot of their work on the porch," she said, recalling her family members cleaning beans outside to escape the heat of the kitchen.
Graham turned on a video recorder to capture the conversation.
Neighbor Shari Mogavero still spends much of her time on her porch.
"My husband and I have breakfast out there and dinner. We have coffee in the morning," Mogavero said. "We even have a screened-in back porch where we like to sleep. It's like camping."
Mike Seidel, who lives on the same block, finds that porches play a social role in the region.
"You simply see each other on the porch and say hello. You see how people are doing," Seidel said.
The architectural structures also give people a reason to stop and talk.
"We like to go porch hopping," Mogavero said.
Graham enjoys the dialog the porch project encourages. As a native of England, she was surprised by the significance of the architectural feature.
"People love their porches, and everyone has a past story about their porches," she said.
The project even has made the artist a bit of a local celebrity.
"I have been stopped on the street, and people have asked me, ‘Are you the porch lady?' " Graham said with a smile.